Brian Griese, who had been voted a team captain and had helped the Bucs get off to 5-1 start this season, was feeling sorry for himself en route to St. Joseph’s Hospital after suffering a serious knee injury in the second quarter of Tampa Bay’s Week 6 contest vs. the Miami Dolphins that has since been diagnosed as a torn ACL and MCL.

However, self-pity quickly turned to optimism once Griese was entered the emergency room.

“It’s devastating, but when it first happened I was optimistic and hopeful that it was just going to be the MCL,” Griese recalled on Wednesday. “I’d had one of those before, and that’s kind of what I was hoping. I didn’t get that diagnosis. You do work hard and you do put a lot of time and energy into it, and it’s difficult especially when the team’s doing so well. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of the good times because if you play long enough in this league there’s going to be tough times. You just hope that if you persevere you’ll get to the good times and we’re having a good time this year. Hopefully that will continue, and I’m going to be a part of that too, just in a different role. I’m not going to let everybody else have all the fun and not be a part of it. But I’m going to keep a positive attitude.

“When I had the injury they took me off the field and took me immediately to St. Joe’s hospital to get an MRI done. I felt sorry for myself in that car ride. But when I got to the hospital, to get to the MRI they wheeled me through the emergency room. And I was still in my pads – they didn’t even take me out of my pads – so everybody in the emergency room knew who I was and was congratulating me on doing well in the game. But they were also saying that they wished me well on my injury and hopefully it wasn’t as bad as it could be. I just thought to myself at that point, what a great perspective. I went from the stage that everybody wants to be on, Sunday afternoon playing professional football, to the emergency room where there are people lying in the hallways and people who probably won’t get out of that emergency room. And they were wishing me well. It gave me perspective: You know what? I have a knee injury. Now, it will heal, I’ll be fine, I’ll be able to come back and play on that field again. But I’m not as bad as the people who were in that emergency room. So I felt sorry for myself for about five minutes on that ride, but after that I can’t realistically or logically feel sorry for myself.”

Griese is scheduled to have surgery to repair the torn ligaments in his knee on Friday in Miami, but that procedure may be postponed due to the loss of power in Miami caused by Hurricane Wilma. Once he’s had the surgery, Griese plans to take roughly six months to fully recover.

“The thing about this injury is I’m not the first guy to ever have the injury,” Griese said. “There’s been a lot of experience with this surgery. I’m really confident that I’ll go in, get it fixed and be back on the road to recovery. Typically, it’s five to six months, I think, before you get back. So hopefully by March or April I’ll be back on the field working out and getting this thing back to 100 percent. I’m really optimistic that I’ll get this thing fixed and be back, and be back bigger and stronger than I ever was before. You’ve got to be positive and optimistic about it, which I am.”

In the meantime, Griese’s plan is to help the Bucs build on their 5-1 record, and his primary area of focus will be at the quarterback position, where third-year signal caller Chris Simms hopes to pick up where Griese left off.

“I hope to be really involved,” said Griese. “Now, I’m not going to be out there on the front lines of the battlefield with my men, but I can still do some things to help in the battle. I’m going to try to help Chris as much as I possibly can. I think there are some things that I can help him with during the week in preparation, I think there are things I can help him with on game day. I’ve got a great relationship with him and I’ll continue to help him because that’s my job. This team elected me captain and I intend to fulfill my responsibilities as a captain. There are a lot of things I think I can do from the standpoint of not being on the field but still being a leader. I intend to do that.”

Simms said Wednesday that any advice Griese can give him would help him become a better quarterback and player for the Bucs.

“He’s a guy who I’ve had a very close bond with since he’s been here,” Simms said of Griese. “I was real happy to see him in the meeting this morning just because I know he’s looking at the game plan. If I do have questions, I can lean on him. ‘When you had this play last year, what did you expect?’ Things like that will definitely help me out.”

Simms has played in six career games with two starts, both of which he made last year. Sunday’s game in San Francisco will mark the first time Simms starts a game for Tampa Bay this season, and according to what head coach Jon Gruden witnessed in practice on Wednesday, the 2003 third-round draft pick out of Texas is well on his way to having a good debut as a starter.

“He looked good. I thought he had a good day,” Gruden said of Simms. “He threw the ball well, made some good reads and good decisions and I was really pleased with his work today. The 49ers will test him. They’re coming off a difficult game, we know that, but we know enough about San Francisco to know that they have a lot of talented players there. We’re off to a good start.”

One of the things that helped Simms prepare to be Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback was the bye week, which essentially gave he and his teammates an extra week of preparation.

While the bye week was certainly helpful, Simms will draw on his previous playing experience more than anything else when he lines up under center on Sunday when Tampa Bay attempts to improve to 6-1 on the season in San Francisco.

“I think a year or more of experience can always help, and it definitely has,” said Simms. “Last year I was very comfortable coming in and I felt good, but at the same time I’m a year older and I’ve just seen that much more and got that many more reps. That alone has made me a little more experienced.

Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett has spent a significant amount of time working with Simms on different things, like the quarterback/center exchange. However, one of Simms’ biggest criticisms has been his struggle to keep his composure in games, but he’s worked on remedying that particular issue as well.

“Last year I went in there and probably threw a few too many balls too hard…even this preseason,” said Simms. “I’ve just made a conscious effort to relax myself before I go out there and not treat it any different than practice or any other game. Just be relaxed, go out there, be confident you can do the job and let it go.”

One of the things that allows Simms to stay more relaxed these days is knowing what he has to work with, like the league’s No. 1-ranked defense and a potent running game that currently ranks 5th in the NFL.

“More or less, it’s definitely my time to play and go out there and do some things,” said Simms. “But at the same time, I fully realize that we’ve got a defense that’s very good, a running game that’s real good and I don’t need to do a whole lot to go out there and win some games. We’ve proven we can win any kind of game, so I’m just going to do my part and let things go as they go.”

Although they realize losing Griese was a big blow, the Bucs players that spoke to the media on Wednesday appear to be pretty confident in their new starting quarterback.

“We definitely believe in Chris,” said Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton. “He’s a guy that’s got the opportunity and the ability to be a starter. He knows how it feels to be put in the fire. I think he feels ready and has been ready.”

Of course, Clayton isn’t the only one that shares that sentiment. Although he expects Simms to go through some growing pains, Griese believes Simms will perform well as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback.

“I think Chris is going to be a heck of a player,” Griese said. “He’s intelligent, he’s athletic. The guys will play hard for him, and that’s what he needs. He needs to understand that he doesn’t have to do it all himself, obviously. He’ll be fine. There’s going to be a period of adjustment to him, but I expect us to continue to play well with him in there.”

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